Bad weather and bad debts have hit half-year sales and profits at The Co-operative Group, but CEO Peter Marks insists performance will improve in the second half of the year.

Group sales were flat at £6.56bn in the 26 weeks to 30 June, while operating profits fell 34% to £174m during the period - largely due to the society taking an extra £46m hit to cover bad debts in its banking business against the year before.

Marks put a 1.2% slide in like-for-like food sales down to the weather. “retailers often blame the weather but impulse, ice cream, salads and soft fruit sales were non-existent this year,” he said.

CFO Steve Humes added: “For three out of the last six months, our like-for-like sales were in the black, but April and June were the worst on record. Our trading has been absolutely in sync with the weather.”

Total food sales were down 2.2% to £3.6bn over the period, following the society’s sale of 90 unwanted Somerfield stores this time last year.

However, Marks said the society was introducing a number of initiatives expected to boost sales over the next six months. These included a trial of new formats in 12 stores across the UK, launched after a customer insight programme found its one-size-fits-all approach to stores and ranges “simply doesn’t work”, said Marks.

The trial stores have introduced ranges closer suited to the local demographic and generated a 12.5% uplift in like-for-like sales. The new formats are expected to be rolled out across the UK early next year.